Many people shy away from meal prep because they think it tastes like “leftovers.” I get that, but there are many ways to maintain the quality of yor freezer meal prep that will make them taste fresh and delicious.
Last week we delved into freezer cooking and why it’s the kitchen productivity hack that you need to get started on right away.
I answered lots of questions about what to freeze and how to get started with freezing to help you cook from scratch in a way that’s realistic.
…but I knew there would be so many more questions which is why I felt like an “encore” post this week would be appropriate.
Why some people shy away from freezer meal prep
I’ve been an avid cook for a long time, but for many many years I shied away from meal prep.
I would hear advice like this.
“Oh yeah, I just cook a big batch of chicken and a big batch of rice and eat it all week long.”
…and then I would throw up in my mouth a little.
My experience tells me I’m not alone. When I chat about meal prep on social media I get a lot of questions about quality.
Saving time is great, but ya’ll want to enjoy your food.
I get you, I would say I am a cook first, and a meal-prepper second. Meaning, if the freezer is going to greatly degrade the quality of my food, I’m not using it.
The problem is though, that many people just aren’t taking care of their leftovers or meal prepped foods properly which causes them to think that they hate leftovers…when that might not be the case
(this advice coming from a certified graduate of the leftover’s anonymous club, so I know what I’m talking about)
Why do people hate leftovers so much?
Before we get into my solutions and how you can maintain the quality of your meal prep and leftovers, we need to dig into why people hate leftovers so much in the first place.
From what I can tell, a distaste for leftovers really comes down to two things.
- Leftovers are monotonous. Even if you prepared your favorite dish, you will likely be pretty tired of it by day 4.
2. Quality-Many foods don’t age well, especially when stored in the fridge, and even more especially when reheated in the microwave. Meat gets tough, veggies get soggy, flavors meld together in a way that’s not desirable. I get it.
Okay, so now that we know the objections, let’s dig in to some of the ways we can take care of our freezer meal prep and leftovers so it will actually taste great when it’s time to use it and not feel like eating leftovers at all.
We’ll be going over the 4-step process for freezer meal prep that tastes amazing starting with the preparation process, and ending with reheating.
Let’s start with prep.
How to prepare your foods for the freezer
- Cook meats properly-Cook your meat to the proper temperature and not a second more.
- Keep foods separate as much as possible-There are some dishes that freeze great completely assembled, things like lasagna or chili, but most dishes will reheat so much better if they’ve been frozen as basic “staples” instead of a completed dish.
- Know what foods can handle the freezer-check out this post to figure out what foods freezer well
- Marinade or pre-bread chicken before freezing-If you still can’t handle the thought of pre-cooked meat (read on because you might change your mind later) you can still meal prep meat for the freezer. You can freeze trim your chicken, marinate it, and freeze it in individual portions. This will still save you LOADS of time cooking.
How to package foods for the freezer
- Package Tightly-squeeze out as much air as possible or even use a vacuum sealer (I haven’t tried but would like to)
- Flash-Freeze-For some foods, I recommend flash-freezing so they don’t all freeze together, but there have been times that I forgot I was flash freezing and left the food in open air for up to 24 hours…this is a no-go and will ruin your hard-earned prep. Set an alarm if you have to, but get it in an airtight container as soon as possible
- For the best quality freeze in glass or thick plastic-Mason Jars are great for this! Ziploc bags are also fine for many things, but for foods that you might find less palatable to begin with (cooked chicken) definitely go for glass
- LABEL-Labeling and rotating your meal prep will ensure that you eat them while they still taste as good as possible. Put an inventory sheet on your fridge so you know what you have and incorporate it into your weekly meal plans.
How to thaw your meal prepped foods.
By far the best way to thaw your meal prepped foods is in the refrigerator overnight. This is especially true for meat.
You can cook your meal prepped foods straight from frozen, but this is much more likely to yield drier meat.
If you forget to thaw your freezer meal prep in the refrigerator overnight, try running it under cold water before reheating to maintain moisture.
As a last resort, you can throw it into whatever you’re making (soup or pasta sauce for example) and reheat it to at least 165 degrees, but this will yield the biggest decrease in quality.
How to reheat freezer meal prep and leftovers
The biggest thing I want to share on the topic of reheating freezer meal prep and leftovers is to avoid the microwave.
I’ll say it louder for the people in the back. AVOID THE MICROWAVE.
Okay, the microwave can work just fine for dishes like pasta sauce, but if there is meat in that dish, do not reheat it in the microwave.
In fact, I always thought I would be destined to forever hate meal prepped and leftover chicken because of the nasty flavor it gets when reheated.
Nope. Turns out it was just the microwave.
So if you’re not supposed to reheat in the microwave, what should you do?
There are lots of options, and basically any of them will work that isn’t the microwave. You can add it straight to what you are cooking and heat it to 165.
You can wrap it in tin foil and reheat it in the oven.
You can add water and saute it in a pan until it’s hot.
My last tip for reheating leftovers, especially if you’re not usually a fan of reheated chicken is to eat it cold. Add it to a salad or wrap after it’s thaw and enjoy it cold.
I hope this 4-step guide to taking care of your freezer meal prep and leftovers has shown you that you CAN find ways to meal prep that you like, and that maybe your hatred of leftovers has more to do with HOW you’ve been taking care of those leftovers than hating leftovers themselves.
What do you think? Are you a leftover hater or lover? Let me know in the comments!